Whilst the present government is subsidising the cost of rice,
basic foods, and petrol, family and friends in
Timor-Leste tell me the subsidy is not sufficient to meet
family needs. Indeed TETS have just sent emergency money to enable some
friends to buy rice for their families.
The low value of the dollar has of course added to difficulties, what
seems to have been forgotten is that the UN, International staff, and
of course the IDF are paid extremely high wages, the Timorese are not –
thus Timor-Leste, in particular Dili, has a two tier economic system.
Having lived with the locals in Dili, and elsewhere in the country, I
know how difficult this system makes life for the indigenous people.
Most locals shop at the markets, but in 2006 Comoro and other
markets were burned down – some stall holders set shop up elsewhere,
i.e. on the beach road, but fuel costs hamper bringing produce
from the districts, low rainfall has exasperated the problem. People
in the districts need to feed themselves and their families, less
comes into the markets that still exist in Dili, prices become higher.
Solutions proposed by the government are short term and do not seem to
be working. A better solution would surely be for the
government to invest in local agriculture, i.e. help subsidence
farmers buy tools enabling them and their families to
produce more food. (Having worked on smallholdings in the districts I
know lack of farming tools hampers production)
Surely this governments proposal of selling off 300 thousand hectares
of land to grow bio fuels, without consulting the people of Timor-Leste,
will exasperate the problem further.
Oxfam and other NGO’s have stated that bio fuels do nothing
to improve the life of the poor, indeed they do the opposite, and of
course the land is lost long term for the production of food.
The government has stated land that would be used to grow
bio fuels is ‘waste land’ (how often we have heard the term ‘waste
land’ or ‘slum clearance,’ in my area (Tyneside) when councils want to
move people out of their homes so car sales room, state of the art gyms,
or posh new homes that locals can’t afford, can be built).
I would argue from observations whilst in Timor-Leste, and from
talking to Timorese family and friends living in Great Britain that
there is no waste land in Timor-Leste. The land the government is
proposing to sell is arable or grazing land for buffalo, pigs, goats,
chickens etc. If the food shortage is acute now what will happen if
this land is sold off?
While the proposed factory in Baucau will enable some Timorese to find
work would suggest that most of the employees will be from elsewhere.
As a postscript would add that the Xanana governments proposal has
met with a great deal of opposition and anger from the Timorese still
living in the diaspora. The question many ask is why did we and our
families fight to get Indonesia off our soil, only for this government
to try to sell our land from under our feet to Indonesia. Naturally
the environmentalists in all countries are also concerned about the
proposed bio fuel sell off.
Tyneside East Timor Solidarity
On Fri, 25 Jul 2008 12:42:25 -0400
> East Timor hit by dollar woes
> By Lucy Williamson
> BBC News, East Timor
> The television blares Chinese-language programmes
> across supermarket shelves stacked with noodles,
> bottles of bleach and bags of rice.
> Outside, in Dili’s dusty commercial district, the
> afternoon heat hangs limp and heavy.
> Loh Bee Choon sits in the cool of the shop,
> making small talk with her scattering of customers.
> One by one, she tots up their purchases; the
> medical bleeping of the scanner marking her income, dollar by dollar.
> Goods from Indonesia, China, Singapore, the US –
> but very few indeed from here in East Timor.
> All of which makes a lot of sense, because not
> much is produced in East Timor. Imports are an
> essential part of life and 90% of goods come from overseas.
> But with the US dollar – the official currency –
> worth less abroad now than it used to be, buying
> them is getting much more expensive.
> “It’s had a big effect,” Loh Bee Choon said.
> “Because the value of the dollar has gone down,
> we’ve had to raise prices by around 20% to 30%.”
> If prices at the Loh supermarket go up by 20% or
> 30%, that has a huge impact on local people.
> There is no general social security system, and
> East Timor has no control over monetary policy.
> When the dollar runs into trouble, as it has done
> recently, there is really nowhere the country’s people can turn.
> ‘Not enough’
> Daniele da Conceicao knows exactly how that
> feels. He lives with his family in the backstreets of Dili.
> His salary – around $85 (£43) a month – used to
> be just enough to feed and clothe everyone, send
> the children to school, and have a little bit
> left over. Now, he struggles just to buy enough to eat.
> Last year, he said, $30 would buy two bags of
> rice – enough for the family for a month. Now it
> buys only one bag, which means almost
> three-quarters of his salary goes on rice each month.
> He needs another $10 for kerosene to cook it.
> Then there is transport to get to work and get
> the children to school, and some vegetables for dinner.
> Then the money is more than gone. As Daniele puts
> it, “It’s really far away from enough to sustain the family.”
> Energy fund
> Joao Goncalves, East Timor’s minister for
> economic development, acknowledges there is a problem.
> People like Daniele are being hit twice, he says,
> once by the weak dollar and again by the high global prices of food
> and fuel.
> The government’s answer is to subsidise basic goods like food and
> As Mr Goncalves explained, the plan – currently
> before parliament – is to subsidise essential
> basics like rice, corn and beans, and to
> stockpile a 12-month supply of these staples to ensure food security.
> That may ease pressure on Daniele and his
> children in the short-term, but it is proving
> harder for some MPs and economists to swallow.
> That is because the government plans to pay for
> the subsidies by taking $240m out of East Timor’s Petroleum Fund.
> The fund is the country’s nest egg, built with
> energy revenues from a gas field in the Timor Sea.
> Those revenues account for virtually all the
> country’s income and each year, careful
> calculations are made to determine how much the
> government can sustainably siphon off for its budget each year.
> Now, the government says it is time to dip into
> the savings themselves. Not doing so, it says,
> risks poverty turning to instability.
> But its opponents say this kind of spending will
> dampen private enterprise, and leave East Timor
> with little to show for its money – and if the
> oil fund is drained, it risks leaving East Timor
> with no economic future at all.